One last kick for Chelsea FC

Before he came back to Stamford Bridge, Didier Drogba had the fairytale ending to his Chelsea FC career.

Roman Abramovitch added a few players to his beloved Chelsea FC side this past offseason, most notably the virtuoso himself, Eden ‘Garden of Eden’ Hazard.

Other additions include the Brazilian thunder, Oscar, along with ‘Julius’ Cesar Azpilicueta, Victor ‘Call me Victor’ Moses, Thorgan ‘Hammer of Thor’ Hazard and Marko ‘Polo’ Marin. The offseason is always an exciting time to be a Chelsea FC fan, as Abramovitch seems to think that his money is no good unless he gets to spend it during the transfer window.

But more than who arrives, this time there’s one player leaving–and it hurts to see him go.

Losing Nicolas Anelka was tough enough, seeing as I had grown fond of the Frenchman I affectionately nicknamed Colonel K (i.e. play any FIFA videogame in French, and you’ll see why I use that nickname) but losing Didier Drogba is something else entirely. He was an icon and will remain my favourite Chelsea player until someone else beats what he accomplished in his eight seasons at the club–which is saying that he will remain so for a very long time.

Didier Yves Drogba Tébily arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2004-2005 on a then-club record £24-million transfer fee from Marseille. Coincidentally, this is when I first started watching soccer and supporting Chelsea FC more extensively. Supporting Chelsea was easy, because the club was very good (i.e. it would finish the season at the top of the Premiership table) and if the club was very good, it was at least in part because of Drogba. Back then, the Ivorian was 26 years old, and what first struck is how strong he was. He was never the tallest player on the pitch but he played bigger than his 6-foot-2 frame. He first controlled the ball, in the air usually, and then kept defenders away because he was so physical. Of course, this is also why Drogba managed to stay relevant, efficient and dangerous as he advanced in age–it didn’t matter whether he lost a step or three, because his style was never dependent on him being faster than you. In fact, Drogba was maybe never faster than you–he was stronger than you were, and that sure didn’t change with age.

During his career, he scored 157 goals to finish as Chelsea’s fourth-highest goal scorer in the club’s history. He gave the Blues their first league title in 50 years in his first season at Stamford Bridge and then another one the following season. Eventually, the club won a third title during the 2009-2010 season with Drogba, but without Jose Mourinho this time. The Blues also added four FA Cup titles and two League Cup titles with Drogba. In 9 Cup finals appearances, Drogba has scored 9 goals–that’s as good as it gets.

The Ivorian player wasn’t without controversy however, as he was always intense and emotional on the pitch. He was usually able to create opportunities for teammates or for himself, or when nothing else was in play, to poach the opposing player into a foul. Drogba was great at that and often forced referees into awarding him phantom fouls. In that sense, Drogba looked for an edge any way that he could find it and, though he gets criticized for this, he wasn’t different than any other player. And, well, what was Drogba supposed to do, stop? No, of course not.

Yet for all his alleged faults on the field, he was flawless off it, helping to raise millions of dollars with his “Didier Drogba Foundation” and to fund the construction of a hospital in his hometown of Abidjan in 2009. His legend says that in some way, Drogba also helped heal the wounds of civil war in Ivory Coast. For the most part, it seems like Drogba used his platform as an athlete to do some good and for that, he must be celebrated. There are much bigger things than sports, and Drogba understood that.

It’s in May of 2012, in Munich for the Champions League final, that Drogba made his biggest contribution yet. First, Bayern’s Thomas Muller headed home a ball in the 83rd minute to put his side up 1-0, and my heart sunk. This improbable title seemed then like it would stay this pipe dream that it had been all season long. Except that in the 88th minute, Fernando Torres won a corner, Juan Mata made sure that it matared and Drogba flicked his neck, heading the ball over Manuel Neuer and into the net. 1-1. In extra time, keeper Petr Cech saved a penalty from Arjen Robben after a Drogba foul on Franck Ribéry. From there, it was time for a penalty shootout.

Bayern led 2-0 after two makes and a Mata miss, then 3-1 and I was depressed. But then Frank Lampard scored, Ivica Olić missed for the Germans, Ashley Cole scored for Chelsea and Bastian Schweinsteiger missed. The score was 3-3 and it was Drogba’s turn. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” I told myself. This was Drogba’s chance at redemption for he had missed this opportunity in 2008 in Moscow when he had been sent off in extra-time. In 2012, Drogba could do no wrong because he was the last player to shoot the penalty–score and you win, miss and things move to sudden death. Regardless of the outcome, win or lose, this would be his last kick in Chelsea blue.

Drogba walked up, put the ball down, fixed his socks, then his shorts, took two steps backward and stood a little to the left of the ball, his hands on his hips. He was calm, composed and confident. “Money, I know it,” I said over and over and hoping to convince myself.

Then, Drogba moved up to the ball and he kicked with the inside of his right foot…

He arrived as an unknown, as a 26-year-old Ivorian showing promise, and he leaves as a 34-year-old legend. He’ll be missed.